Pick of the Week:
Hail, Caesar! (Universal)
There’s a way of thinking that when it comes to serious filmmakers navigating the Hollywood system, the best way of staying professionally viable without burning out is to take a “one for them, one for me” approach. That means making a movie designed to win crowds and make money then making one that satisfies your need to make more personal art. (A classic example: Steven Spielberg following Jurassic Park with Schindler‘s List in 1993.)
With Joel and Ethan Coen it’s sometimes hard to tell which films fall into the “them” category and which under “us.” After all, they turned a musical adaptation of The Odyssey set in Depression-era South into a blockbuster and Burn After Reading, one of the team’s oddest films, is one of its biggest hits. If 2010’s True Grit was clearly a “them,” and 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis clearly an “us” then Hail, Caesar! should have been another one for “them.”
Yet, despite earning strong reviews, audiences rejected the star-packed comedy about studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) making the rounds during a particularly busy day that finds a major star (George Clooney) kidnapped by a mysterious organization and others in the midst of problems both big and small. It’s packed with memorable comic sequences and a couple of brilliant dance numbers. If a movie with Scarlett Johansson doing her best Esther Williams impression and Channing Tatum hoofing it like Gene Kelly isn’t enough to get viewers to turn up, what will?
Whatever the reason, even if you missed Hail, Caesar! the first time around, there’s no reason to miss it now. And alongside the broad, funny gags (Tilda Swinton plays a Louella Parsons-like gossip columnist and her twin sister) you’ll find a thoughtful exploration of faith and duty, a sort of Catholic riff on the Coens’ A Serious Man. Maybe the usual categories don’t apply to the Coens. They don’t make movies for us or them. They just make movies like nobody else.